Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson's Disease

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In this blog, you will learn:

  • How Parkinson’s symptoms can be related to different infections and that we should look for infection in these cases
  • That an underlying infection, Lyme disease, mold illness or a combination of different microbial infections, can be at the root cause of Parkinson’s Disease
  • How we can address and improve Parkinson’s using a Functional Medicine approach to these infections

Do your clients suffer from impaired movement and motor control issues? Do they have Parkinson’s and struggle to perform normal daily activities? Then this blog is for you, as we present one possible missing link to treating Parkinson’s. Please read on for the details! 

Do you get stuck clinically with symptoms of Parkinson's with your patients?  Would you like to have a larger impact on improving movement or coordination issues? The key to Parkinson’s treatment may be an individual approach using nutrition, lifestyle and exercise. If you want to improve your patient’s quality of life, you need a customized approach to address each patient’s unique needs. Our functional medicine course will teach you how to do this. Look into our functional medicine school (mindbodyfunctionalmedicine.com): we will educate you to have a greater impact on improving your client’s lives.

** Please note: If you want the short summary version of this article, then please click here **

What is Parkinson’s Disease (PD)?

Parkinson’s is a disease of the central nervous system. The main feature is progressive loss of voluntary motor control. Ultimately, Parkinson’s Disease interferes with daily life activities.

The symptoms of Parkinson's are due to nerve cell damage in the brain, which causes dopamine levels to drop. Low levels of dopamine cause problems with movement (Lotankar S, 2017). Nerve cells fire and there isn't enough dopamine to transmit messages so the brain cannot transmit the signals to coordinate movement. This is when the PD symptoms of tremor and stiffness start to happen.

Parkinson’s medications either increase dopamine levels in the brain or mimic the action of dopamine. Dopamine can't be given directly because it can't cross the blood-brain barrier. PD symptoms develop once dopamine deficiency is up to 80% in the brain (Lotankar S, 2017).

  • Parkinson’s frequently starts with a tremor in one hand. Other symptoms include diminished motor activity, slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance.
  • Progression of the disease leads to stooped posture, difficulty walking and difficulty talking. Patients may also have mental and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties and fatigue.
  • People usually start to show Parkinson's symptoms around age 60.
  • Patients typically live between 10 and 20 years after diagnosis.
  • The actor Michael J. Fox is a well-known sufferer of Parkinson's.

Parkinson’s Disease Facts (Cerri S, 2019)

  • PD affects 3% of the population by the age of 65, up to 5% of people over 85 years old are affected.
  • There are gender differences in Parkinson’s: PD affects men twice more often than it affects women.
  • Women with PD have different symptoms, a higher mortality rate and faster progression of the disease. Women also respond differently to treatment.
  • PD is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The precise cause of PD is unknown. It is a combination of genetic and epigenetic risk factors:

  • Aging: Cells are more susceptible to damage as they age. The aging nervous system is more vulnerable to infection.
  • Genetics account for approximately 30% of the risk (Michael J Fox Org, 2021).
  • Gender: Men have a higher risk.
  • Environment, specifically toxin/chemical/pesticide exposure: Farmers, wood workers, painters, metallurgy and medical workers exposed to pesticides, solvents and metals have a higher risk (Cerri S, 2019). Agricultural chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, Agent Orange, heavy metals, detergents and solvents have all been implicated in PD (Cerri S, 2019).
  • Head injury
  • Immune status
  • Bacterial or viral infection has been proposed as a potential risk factor (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

Unfortunately, it is difficult to make an early diagnosis of PD (Lotankar S, 2017). When detected at later stages, neurons have already degenerated completely, so PD is often fatal (Lotankar S, 2017).

Could Infection be a Root Cause?

People with various bacterial, viral and fungal infections might be at increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease. Infection can trigger chronic inflammation in the brain (Wang H, 2020). Microglia are cells found in the brain, which are part of the immune defense in the central nervous system (CNS). Inflammation of the microglia may promote the onset of PD (Wang H, 2020).

The different symptoms seen in different patients might be due to the variety of microbes affecting the CNS. These microbes cause infections. The risk of PD is thought to vary with each specific infection type (Wang H, 2020).

Signs of systemic inflammation can appear even years before motor symptoms. It is possible that infections colonize different tissues and organs of the body including the CNS, and trigger an immune response that can be seen in bloodwork. For instance, elevated levels of hs-CRP (a general marker for inflammation) have been associated with the risk of death from PD (Pisa D, 2020).

Specific viruses have known neuro effects and the brain can be particularly vulnerable (Smeyne RJ, 2021). Viruses produce high levels of cytokines and chemokines that can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation and possibly neuronal cell death (Smeyne RJ, 2021). The huge volume of cytokine and chemokine production overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate them and can lead to a “cytokine storm”. Inflammatory cytokines, such as TGF alpha, IFNg, and IL6, upregulated by the viral infection, can set off an inflammatory cascade in the brain that can lead to neuronal dysfunction and cell death (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

Pathologically, inflammation is an early feature in PD, which is consistent with infection being a contributing factor (Smeyne RJ, 2021). The infection-based inflammation can make the CNS more susceptible to later damage that otherwise might not have been so harmful (Smeyne RJ, 2021). Symptoms of PD, and other neurodegenerative diseases, worsen in the context of infection and any other metabolic stress (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

Do Viral Infections Increase Parkinson’s Risk?

Viruses that directly invade the nervous system and infect cells are considered neurotropic. Neurotropic viruses often target specific regions of the nervous system, rather than cause a generalized infection. Neurotropic viruses can be the cause of PD (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

Viruses can induce changes in parts of the brain that are prominent in PD, and these changes seem to be specific to the viral infection (Smeyne RJ, 2021). These include down-regulation of dopamine production and dopaminergic neuron death (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

Does Lyme Disease Increase Parkinson’s Risk?

Borrelia burgdorferi is a Gram-negative spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Borrelia burgdorferi may directly damage neurons and the neurological function of the brain (Wirsching I, 2019).  Lyme can affect dopamine by lowering production and by increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines (Blum K, 2017). Long term Lyme disease may result from impaired dopaminergic function and can reduce dopamine levels (Blum K, 2017).

There is evidence that does not support a link between Lyme disease and Parkinson’s: when geographic regions with Lyme disease and death from Parkinson's were compared, no correlation was found (Smeyne RJ, 2021). However, a Borrelia infection can affect the entire central nervous system and cause a syndrome that may resemble PD (Smeyne RJ, 2021). Studies show that acute or moderately acute Parkinsonism can be a complication of Lyme disease (Pisché G, 2017). Parkinsonism is any condition that causes the movement abnormalities seen in Parkinson's disease.

It is not uncommon for Lyme’s disease to imitate neurological diseases like MS, Parkinson’s, ALS, Fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s disease (Beridze M, 2017). Lyme disease can present as Parkinson’s:

In one patient, symptoms included those of PD; rigidity in all limbs and a tremor in the fingers (Beridze M, 2017). Blood tests were positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, which was later confirmed by the Western blot test, the gold standard test for Lyme disease (Beridze M, 2017).

In a patient with clinically diagnosed Parkinsonism, tests for Borrelia burgdorferi were positive (Cassarino DS, 2003). This patient was diagnosed with Parkinsonism by several neurologists. At autopsy, it was seen that the Parkinsonism was related to the Borrelia infection, or to the immune response against Borrelia (Cassarino DS, 2003).

Given this association with Lyme disease, there should be a thorough exam to ensure that a case of chronic Lyme disease is not misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s (Beridze M, 2017).

Does Mold Illness Increase Parkinson’s Risk?

Mold is a type of fungus. Fungal toxins, or mold, produce mycotoxins (mold toxins). Some types of pathogenic fungi sequester in tissue and release toxins that target and destroy CNS cells (Purzycki CB, 2010). Mycotoxins often cause both neurotoxicity and immune suppression. Fungal infections can be similar to neurodegenerative disease in that they often are chronic and progressive if untreated (Alonso R, 2015).

Fungal pathogens in the CNS can provoke chronic inflammation and a constant production of toxic microbial products (Purzycki CB, 2010). Both inflammation and microbial products can lead to neuronal degeneration and death (Alonso R, 2015). Mycotoxins can cross the blood-brain barrier and directly damage nerve cells in the brain (Purzycki CB, 2010). The damaged cells release debris that triggers an immune response, creating more oxidative damage (Purzycki CB, 2010).

Brain tissue from PD patients contains fungal components (Pisa D, 2020). Fungi can be found inside neurons. Fungi can progressively colonize the entire CNS. Tissue damage from fungi or mold can form during months or even years, trapping these microbes in the brain. The mold species Fusarium, Xylaria and Trichoderma have been found to be prominent in Parkinson’s (Pisa D, 2020).

The different possible infections in the CNS may affect different brain regions. This can account for the differences in motor symptoms found in PD. The genetic background of each patient can determine how susceptible each person is to various mold species, leading to differences in the neuropathology of different patients (Pisa D, 2020).

What are the Possible Solutions or Treatment for Infection-Induced Parkinson’s Disease?

We should think about possible multiple pathogens acting together (Smeyne RJ, 2021). When multiple bacteria are colonizing or acting synergistically, there could be an increased and cumulative risk of disease. In one study, the combination of specific bacteria and viruses was associated with PD risk (Smeyne RJ, 2021).

There is no effective prevention strategy for PD. But treatment against pathogenic microorganisms may help to prevent Parkinson’s. For example, antiviral therapy against Hepatitis C can reduce the risk of PD in patients with a Hepatitis C infection (Wang H, 2020). Research has not yet been done on whether treatment against other pathogenic microorganisms (other than Hepatitis C) reduces the risk of PD (Wang H, 2020).

PD, and other neurological diseases, could be prevented and even treated by using known antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial therapies years before the brain becomes damaged. It is this damage to the brain that makes it more difficult to reverse symptoms once a condition has been diagnosed. With current medical knowledge, it should be possible to predict these diseases and treat them with anti-microbial therapies that are already in use to fight infections (Pisa D, 2020).

Patients with PD may not necessarily have to wait for new treatments or medications to be discovered. They can simply start treatment for mold illness, Lyme disease or other antimicrobial protocols. In many cases, this would improve symptoms, and may even reverse PD.

We have expertise in treating a range of infections, that could be causing Parkinson’s Disease, or other neurodegenerative diseases. We regularly treat and resolve Lyme, mold and chronic microbial infections in patients of our Functional Medicine clinic.

** Please stay tuned for our next Blog!  **

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